Monday, August 31, 2009

First Day in Seoul

[Actual Date: July 28, 2009]

Imagine this scenario:

A seedy-looking detective in a black-and-white, B-type movie shines a light in my face and sternly asks: "Where were you, Miss, on Sunday, July 26th?"

"Umm," I falter at telling the truth. "No where. I never had a July 26th this year."

I recently skipped a day in my life. Due to crossing the international dateline, it was as if Sunday, July 26, 2009 was entirely erased from my existence. Technically, I suppose I was sleeping on an airplane for that brief Sunday, but without memories, it feels as though it never existed.

The Saturday before, I arrived at the Chicago O'Hare Airport. It was 11:00 pm on Saturday, July 25 when I checked my luggage. My plane took flight two hours later, and landed in Incheon, Korea at 5:00 am Monday morning.

Despite the 14 hour non-stop flight, the plane ride itself wasn't too bad. The hardest part was actually getting on the plane. At the airport, I wanted to do nothing so much as go back to Ann Arbor, to my little slope-roofed attic room, my down comforter, my aggressively loving little cats. At the last moment, I wanted nothing more than to be drinking chicken soup and watching BBC movies at home on my computer. Going to the other end of the world without any friends of family or knowledge of the language suddenly sounded like insanity, a delirious idea originated by watching too many hours of the Travel Channel. But I made myself -- bullied myself, really -- into boarding the plane.

Once on board, I nestled into the curves of my seat and closed my eyes for the next several hours. Waking from a fitful slumber, I jerked open my window shade and looked down at a bright world. My body told me it was not the right time for day, but the sky outside had eerie edges of brightness to it, and far below me, I could see jagged little bits of light. Plumes of cloud drifted below the plane, and beneath them were islands dotting the deep sea. I could see a cluster of lights shimmering far away, in the netherworld beneath me. The plane's route was plotted on the screen attached to seat in front of mine, and because of that, I was able to identify our location. We were flying across the Bering Straights. It was magical.

After clearing customs and immigration, it was 6:00 am (Korean time) when I left the airport. Jake, a manager at work, picked me up at the airport and dropped me off at my dorm. I had two hours to unpack and eat and then it was off to work! That was a brutal surprise. I was so tired and disoriented that the room spun awkwardly every time I stood. My eyes could not focus properly. I staggered slightly when I walked. It was a bit like disembarking from the Tilt-a-Whirl after riding it 18 turns in a row. I was given lesson plans for the day -- 5 classes -- and began reading them during the school's opening ceremony where the teachers, including myself, were formally introduced to the students and their parents. I hadn't even finished reading all the lessons when I had to begin teaching them.

An important item of note: I'd never been informed I would be teaching. I was hired as a writing consultant for proofreading internet essays and dissertations. A second important note: I've never taught children. Dreadful, right? But the unexpected thing was that something inside of me sparked awake (probably a shot of adrenaline brought forth by panic) once I was in front of the kids, and I became my happy, lively self.

That night, I went out with the other summer camp teachers. We grilled our own beef, pork, and kimchi at a restaurant that had hot plates built into the tables (a current Korean dining trend). After that, we went out to the bars. All of us wore our pale yellow Yonsei uniforms; we looked like a bunch of Easter peeps. After that long plane ride, long day of unprepared teaching, and long night out, I didn't get back to the dorms until almost 3:00 am the following morning.

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